Published on the Issimo Magazine  website, ahead of the magazine's launch in August.

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Melburnians now have the chance to view paintings from this year’s Archibalds,  writes TONI BRIENT.

It’s an exhibition that knows how to make an entrance. Literally. Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery is so dedicated to presenting the 2013 Archibald Prize collection that it built a separate entrance through the back of the gallery to coordinate the huge numbers expected to visit the exhibition.

In a huge feat for the small public gallery, this will be the only Victorian stop on a nationwide tour for the 2013 finalists in one of Australia’s most prestigious art awards.

The Archibald Prize begun in 1921, two years after the death of its founder, Australian journalist and art supporter J.F. Archibald. In his will, Archibald left money for an annual art prize for portraiture. The Art Gallery of NSW, the trustees of the award, asks entrants to submit a portrait of ‘some man or woman distinguished in art, letters, science or politics’.

Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery Director Jane Alexander. Photo: Celeste Astudillo.

Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery Director Jane Alexander. Photo: Celeste Astudillo.

Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery director Jane Alexander says that, after nine decades, the award has become part of Australian history and the genre of portraiture resonates with Australians from all walks of life.

“It’s accessible. You feel like you get to understand and know a celebrity or a well-known person better because you have this amazing full-on, front-on image of somebody. Often the scale of the works makes the viewing experience that much more intimate. So it takes on this sort of personal dimension as well.”

She says the judging process for the prize is quite broad, causing some controversy over the years with works that “stretch the parameters of what portraiture is”.

“There are no hard and fast rules about which work is selected as the winning works or which works are selected for the exhibition,” says Alexander.

“It really comes down to preferences and what (the judges) like.”

This year’s winning portrait, Del Kathryn Barton’s Hugo, depicts the actor Hugo Weaving. Alexander says it hasn’t attracted the same level of attention as past years. She says Weaving’s “low-profile” of late may have contributed.

“He was happy to be the sitter, but he hasn’t wanted to participate in any of the other activities around the Archibald.”

Weaving’s low profile is a sharp contrast to actress Asher Keddie’s. The Offspring and Paper Giants: The Birth of Cleo star is the subject of Vincent Fantauzzo’s entry, which won the Art Gallery of NSW People’s Choice Award.

“(That) has certainly attracted a lot of attention this year, and partly because she won the Gold Logie, as well.”

It is predicted that Fantauzzo’s piece will also win the Mornington gallery’s People’s Choice Award.

But, the other pieces in the touring exhibition are not without notice. Many of this year’s finalists constructed self-portraits, moving away from the traditional concept of who is ‘distinguished’ enough to be a sitter, something Alexander says is largely open to interpretation.

“You define who’s of note. If you can put forward a persuasive argument, I might think I’m of note, you might think you’re of note. It’s quite general.”

She says Carlos Pagoda’s depiction of his father, Habit de jardinière, goes even further. “That’s his elderly 97-year-old father. He’s obviously not a person who’s known to everybody. But he’s probably of note in his own family.”

While she has an innate connection with them, Alexander is unable to pick a favourite work from the collection.

“I think it’s impossible for me to have a favourite because I see the exhibition every day, and every day I see something quite astounding in different works.”

While she lists Abdul Abdullah’s depiction of boxer Tony Mundine and Julia Ciccarone’s portrait of sculptor Nicholas Jones among those she was particularly drawn to, it is evident that Alexander has spent a while analysing Peter Daverington’s The Patriot: self-portrait with an albino joey  (pictured at top of story – image courtesy of Art Gallery of NSW).

“You could probably write a thesis on this piece,” she laughs. “It’s very hard to tell the story of this work, because the more you look at it the more you see into it.”

The Archibald Prize exhibition will be at Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery until July 7, along with public discussions with Archibald artists. See mprg.mornpen.vic.gov.au

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AuthorToni Brient
CategoriesIssimo, online